MediaWatch: May 18, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 7

60 Minutes Assails Starr

As if to atone for the sin of running an interview with Clinton sex accuser Kathleen Willey, 60 Minutes opened the May 3 show with "Starr Wars," an effort to expose Ken Starr's persecution of innocent Arkansans in his quest to get Clinton. Morley Safer relayed horror stories from four of Starr's "victims," stating as fact that "in his effort to net the biggest fish of all -- the President and the First Lady -- the independent counsel went after some very small fish indeed. And he used some pretty tough tactics on, among others, a woman named Sara Hawkins."

Safer explained Starr's office implicated Hawkins in a scheme to illegally back-date loan appraisals at Madison Savings & Loan: "Adamant that she was innocent, she met with Starr and his deputies who she says threatened if she didn't cooperate, name some names, accept a plea bargain and admit to a felony they would really throw the book at her." Safer recited the damage: "Hawkins, the sole support of her two daughters and two granddaughters says her income fell from about $100,000 a year to less than $25,000. Her oldest daughter had to leave college. They went on food stamps."

Safer picked up the tale of Madison staffers Herbie Branscom and Rob Hill, tried and acquitted on tax fraud charges: "Neither will talk about their bitter experience, but Branscom's lawyer, Dan Guthrie, says Starr's tactics were crude and abusive."

In 1995 Steve Smith pled guilty to loan misuse, but insisted Starr's team wanted him to say "things that I had repeatedly told them were not true....Yet there it was typed up as my testimony." Safer countered a brief pro-Starr soundbite from former U.S. Attorney Henry Hudson by showing the hostility felt against Starr in Little Rock: "They point to the hundreds of subpoenas Starr's office issued and the number of people they believe were threatened the way Sara Hawkins and Steve Smith were. But Hawkins and Smith went public with their ordeal, most others say they are too frightened of Starr to even talk about it."

Safer ended with video of a car displaying a bumper sticker: "Ken Starr: Go Home."